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07 Feb 2023, Edition - 2765, Tuesday

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WhatsApp has status flaw, stalkers are using it to track women online using automated apps



WhatsApp continues to be the most popular messaging app in the world with India being its biggest market. There are millions of users across the globe, yet certain vulnerabilities in the app can put the crucial information of those users at stake. As per the latest findings of Traced, stalkers, cyberattackers are using WhatsApp Online Status Tracker websites and apps to stalk users, get access to their personal information, and more. The report further states that the trackers can also be used to find out who is texting whom and more.

When someone comes online on WhatsApp, their profile immediately displays that they are “Online”. This can be viewed by any user, even if you have not saved the number of a user, you can find out whether that person is online or offline. This information can be accessed by anyone but did you know that there are WhatsApp status trackers that continuously monitor the statuses of users.

Traced CTO Matt Boddy used a couple of those WhatsApp online status trackers that displayed the exact time and date the person came online. In simple terms, just by entering the WhatsApp number of any user in those status tracking websites and apps, users can know when the person came online on WhatsApp and for how long. The report listed the common characteristics of such apps and websites but did not share the names of the apps to avoid promoting them.

As per Traced, one of the apps that it came across promised to unmask the cheating spouses or partners. The app description read, “If you suspect a cheating spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, for example [WhatsApp last seen tracker online can help you to confirm whether your suspicions are really true.” Another tracker claimed to provide status updates of children to their parents. This means that the tracker can help in knowing when the person came online and to whom he is texting. Such apps are downloaded on the stalker’s device instead of the victim’s. You will simply have to enter the phone numbers of the person you are spying on and the person who you think he is chatting with, the app will tell you if the two numbers are interacting with each other or not.

Reacting to the easy availability of stalker ware on Google Play Store, the search giant had said in a statement, “Acceptable forms of these apps can be used by parents to track their children. However, these apps cannot be used to track a person (a spouse, for example) without their knowledge or permission unless a persistent notification is displayed while the data is being transmitted.”

Apart from the apps, there are websites as well that needs no approval from the Play Stores or undergo the rigorous review process, they can simply exist. The Traced app also discovered a similar website that tracks online statuses of WhatsApp. “Our service allows you to track the online status of a WhatsApp user, as well as with whom he is texting and at what time,” the description of the website, whose name has not been disclosed reads.

Interestingly, WhatsApp cannot prevent such voyeuristic apps from monitoring its users because it currently has no settings to do so. Users can also not find out if they are being tracked or stalked by someone. That being said, WhatsApp does have the option of hiding the Last Seen, but that is different from the “Online” status that appears when you are using the app. You simply cannot hide that. This is a major failing on WhatsApp’s part. While it talks about granting complete protecting to the sensitive information of users, it had nothing to prevent something as trivial as online status tracking. The messaging app has been criticized by security researchers for not having a provision to hide statuses from unknown contacts.

“This is just sloppy work on the part of WhatsApp and a typical example of what happens when companies don’t think about abusive relationships when they’re making their design decisions. WhatsApp should have given users the power to turn off their online status from the very beginning, and they need to fix this ASAP,” Eva Galperin, Director of Cybersecurity, EFF had said in a statement.

WhatsApp is yet to issue a statement about the same.

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